Dabo settles in

GREENSBORO, N.C. - With his last media hurdle now behind him, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney can focus on the enormous task that lies ahead - turning this year's version of the Clemson Tigers into an ACC Champion.


Of course, he's in the minority in believing his team has what it takes after the Tigers were picked to finish second in the Atlantic Division behind Florida State Monday during the final day of the ACC's 2009 Football Kickoff.

Not surprisingly, that's the least of concerns.

"It doesn't matter," he said, answering the final round of questions from the media assembled at the Grandover Resort. "I've been on a championship team that was coming back and picked No. 3 in the nation the following year, and we won only three games. And I've been on a team that wasn't ranked that won the division.

"It's fun to talk about, but it doesn't matter."

What does matter is that Dabo certainly believes in himself and his team, and he's done nothing short of trying to convince everybody associated with the program to do the same since he took over on an interim basis last Oct. 13.

How many wins that translates into this coming season is anybody's guess, but as the start of the 2009 season draws closer, he's pounding the notion of "believing" and being "all in" into the minds of everyone in the program more than ever before.

"That's probably my No. 1 objective right now, and it started last spring," he said. "To get 115 players, coaches, trainers, secretaries, student, faculty, fans to all believe. You have to believe.

"I have two signs in my office- one is a believe sign. The other is a "you can't do it" with the "t" crossed out. It's all about believing and expecting to win. You have to expect it. You have to deserve it."

Swinney also spoke in detail Monday afternoon about everything from his star running back returning to his outstanding defense to the upcoming quarterback battle between Kyle Parker and Willy Korn, answering question after question from every Tom, Dick and Larry covering a team in the ACC.

He even came up with few new jokes of his own, too.

"Kyle Korn is going to be the starter," he said drawing a laugh. "I just broke that news to everybody. Dad gum, I wish I had a proven established quarterback that I could say that's my guy. We've got questions. Hopefully we can answer it by the first game, but it may be by the fourth game."

Where he has more answers than questions right now comes on the other side of the ball where the defense is expected to be lights out under new coordinator Kevin Steele.

"I think our strength is going to be our defensive personnel, no doubt about it," Swinney said. "Offense is like shooting a basketball - sometimes it won't go in that dang rim. Defense just takes talent. We can be dominant ... but we have to sack the quarterback and we were poor at that last year.

"With our d-line and our corners and DeAndre McDaniel at safety - we've got a chance to be pretty good over there."

And of course, Swinney and company will be helped exponentially by the return of one of the top running backs in the nation in C.J. Spiller. Spiller was voted runner up to Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer as preseason ACC Player of the Year and is considered a strong candidate to be a top 15 draft pick in 2010.

"It's good for him and it's real good for us," Swinney said of his prize running back's return for his senior season. "He's an amazing young man and the epitome of a student athlete. He's been a co-starter, and now he's going to be in the leading role. I'm excited to see him as an everyday guy."

So now comes the fun part - actually getting on the field and proving how far this program has come under his direction.

Following a quick trip back to the upstate, Swinney will lead the staff in its annual hideaway meetings later this week before players report next Monday, Aug. 3. The following day will see the Tigers go through their first official practice of the upcoming season.

Then and only then will the questions that have been asked time after time for the last eight months will finally begin to be answered as Swinney settles in to his first full year on the job.

Who starts at quarterback? What happens at free safety? What about Clemson's starting kicker – who will it be?

The answers to those questions are about to be revealed as the 2009 season is finally … finally … upon us.

And it can't get here soon enough.

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